The extreme valour, sacrifice and sufferings of thousands of soldiers and local people in the Northeast Indian theatre of World War II comes alive in an ambitious feature-length documentary film made by National Award-winning film critic-turned-filmmaker Utpal Borpujari. The film, titled “Memories of a Forgotten War”, features the reminiscences of a number of war veterans from Japan, Britain and India as well as war witnesses from Manipur and Nagaland, where some of the most ferocious battles of World War II took place during 1944 climaxing with the famous Battle of Kohima.
Produced by noted defence analyst and cyber security expert Subimal Bhattacharjee, the film has been shot in Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Delhi as well Japan and the UK by a multinational crew. The film’s background score has been composed by National Award-winning Assamese musician Anurag Saikia.
Filmmaker UTPAL BORPUJARI talks about his film and the untold stories it unveils
1. Please tell us more about ‘Memories of a Forgotten War”.
This is a feature-length documentary film directed by me and produced by Subimal Bhattacharjee. The film chronicles the personal memories of some veteran soldiers from India, Japan and the UK who had fought the battles of 2nd World War in the hills and valleys of Manipur and Nagaland in 1944, and also that of local villagers who had witnessed those battles. Through these memories, we have tried to reconstruct the history of that epochal event visually in a humanistic way.
2. What made you decide to make a film on this issue?
As a journalist earlier and now as a filmmaker, my endeavour has always been to bring out untold stories from Northeast India before the world. The region and its people suffer from a lot of prejudices in the rest of the country primarily because of a huge information gap that exists about it. The idea to tell this story was always in my mind because of two reasons: one, that while the world knows about the famous battles of 2nd World War and so many movies have been made on them, hardly anyone outside the families of the veterans and military historians know about the battles fought in the mountains of NE India; and secondly, while a few documentaries on the battles have been made, all of them have been from the military/strategy point of view, and no one has tried to document the personal memories related to the battles. One day I and my friend Subimal were discussing this aspect and that’s when he decided to back my idea and offered to produce the film.
3. How is it different from your other films?
This is my first film in which I have tried to document something that is of great importance historically and from military point of view. My earlier films have been on cultural/social/socio-cultural subjects.
4. Why is it important to document history?
The famous saying to the effect that those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat the past mistakes. That I think is the primary reason to document history. We need documentation of historical events from all points of view. From the point of view of North East region, its history is hardly known outside it, and even within it. That itself is a big reason why history of the region needs documentation.
5. What were the challenges you faced while making the film?
A: The main challenge was tracing the surviving veterans who fought in Manipur and Nagaland. When we started shooting the film, it was already 70 years since the battles had happened. So only a few veterans are still living. The challenge also was to track down those among the surviving veterans who still remember the events and could articulate them. Old age ailments and fading memories of many a veteran was something we faced. We had to be extremely sensitive to their sentiments, health conditions and memories while shooting the film. Placed against this challenge, I guess all other problems while shooting the film in far flung and widely spread locations was a cake walk.